This latest trip to Toronto wouldn’t have happened without our successful application to Canada Council travel grant! We can count our blessings that there is still government funding for us in the opera sector that have to stay connected in our small opera community; see other productions, network with colleagues, hear singers across this vast continent. We can’t cast our future productions and bring to Edmonton talented, first of all Canadian, singers unless we hear them and in some cases also see them on stage. But also, as we know — we can’t always find who we need in Canada, so we have to be aware of what goes on opera stages internationally too. This is why we will be auditioning in New York next weekend, after last weekend’s auditions in Toronto.
This time artistic administrator Michael Spassov and I complemented the joint auditions with our three colleagues from the Pacific Opera Victoria while also seeing two of the COC’s fall productions. Yes, we packed a lot into two days!
Auditions – we started them on Saturday with hearing the artists from the world-renowned COC’s young artists’ program, the Ensemble Studio. Every year, hundreds of artists apply to this program, which is followed up by Ensemble Studio staff conducting audition tours across the continent and travelling to attend productions in further search of talent. This is supported by some wonderfully generous individuals as well as corporate philanthropy, as COC scouts for the best. As a result COC has a truly admirable group of young, very promising artists that are such pleasure to hear and see. It’s never a disappointment but always a challenge for us to find enough roles for as many as we can, to cast them in the next couple of seasons.
We auditioned numerous artists (each gets 10 minutes — in total we listened for 12 hours), some represented by agents, some self-represented. Some travelled from far away to come and sing for us, bringing their own pianists, marketing materials … they know how hard the competition for limited number of roles is, as we only offer a small number of productions across Canada, so they come well prepared and ready to charm, impress, wow us!
We have just digitized our artists’ database, so having all the details in one easily searchable place is wonderful — everything from artists’ names, vocal abilities, characteristics, to the repertoire they sing for us, potential roles suitable for the voice type, covers, understudies, emergency covers for some roles, and to singers we need to watch their progress in cases when they are still very young and developing. There is a lot to record as we want to make sure we have every single detail in there. This even includes what each of the artist wears to the audition — a big challenge for Michael with colours and a frequent topic of my teasing. He needs to understand that grey and beige are not the same!
On Saturday evening we saw the new production of the world’s probably most beloved operetta, Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. This production was directed by Christopher Alden, designed by Allen Moyer (set), Constance Hoffmann (costumes) and Paul Palazzo (light). Johannes Debus, COC’s music director, conducted the amazing COC’s orchestra and always perfect chorus (thanks Sandra Horst). Allison Grant did real magic with the choreography. Great cast — tenor David Pomeroy as Alfred (we will see David as our Hoffmann in February), young, promising soprano Ambur Braid (member of the Ensemble Studio) alternating with Mireille Asselin in the role of Adele. American soprano Tamara Wilson was Rosalinde (unusual repertoire for Tamara; great voice for Leonora or Elizabeth and such), great Canadian tenor Michael Schade was Dr. Eisenstein, and American Mezzo Soprano Laura Tucker in the pant role of Prince Orlofsky. We heard Claire de Sevigne, Peter Barrett and James Westman (to mention a few) in some of the smaller roles. It was a fun-filled production, beautiful to watch as the costumes and the set worked so well! Great characters sung and acted so well, the story told well managing to resonate with today’s audiences as well as it did in 1874 when it premiered in Vienna.
The Sunday matinée performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore is this year’s COC’s tribute to Verdi’s 200th anniversary (and then adding Tristan in February celebrating Wagner’s bi-centenary too). This production was somewhat challenging to watch for a variety of reasons, one being the very dark, grey, ominous, monolithic sets brought from Opera de Marseille where it premiered in 2005 to mixed reviews. It was unfortunate that Ramon Vargas was not available to be at this performance — we had instead Italian tenor Riccardo Massi (regular at the Met) who was not on par with the amazing South African soprano Elza van den Heever (she is to have her Met debut as Elisabetta in Maria Stuarda) or the powerful performance of the Russian mezzo-soprano Elena Manistina as Azucena. Canadian baritone Russell Braun was well received by the audience, though they took a bit of time to become warm and accepting of the great drama going on stage. I wasn’t sure if it was the Sunday afternoon nap time or what, but it took until almost the end of the performance before any kind of response was given to some great singing on the stage. This opera puts demands of highest order on the chorus (especially from the men) which the COC’s chorus met with great professionalism and beauty. Il Trovatore is such great opera; Verdi at his best and we found it a fitting tribute to the beloved composer. Musical direction by the Italian conductor Marco Guidarini was impeccable and a true pleasure to listen to.
So — all in all — great trip, two excellent productions of highest calibre and the ability to hear so many great singers both on stage and in audition! How can one wish for a better weekend!? I even managed to escape the super storm and made it on time to our own wonderful Edmonton Symphony’s Gala last night! Stay tuned for the travel/audition notes from NYC next weekend.